Sunday, September 26, 2010
That Don Draper Feeling
Is Mad Men's Don Draper a man to be admired, emulated, pitied, or despised? Whether he deserves any of that from you is up to you, but I daresay he does deserve my respect. Like Big Love's Bill Henrickson, Don is leading a secret life and is continually surrounded by incompetence and negativity that slows down his own progress. And like The Wire's Jimmy McNulty, he's got wife problems, girlfriend problems, job problems, and drinking problems.
On the other hand, some might not see Don as having any problems at all. He's a lucky man, really: he's livin' the good life in the Rat-Packy early 1960s when everyone smoked everywhere, when martini lunches were not only an acceptable practice, but corporate workplaces came with fully stocked bars to assist one's drinking on the job. Don's got a score of gal-pals on the side to help keep his mind off his troubled past under another identity, and he cleverly talked and hoodwinked his way into a cushy position at an advertising agency.
And though some may frown upon Don's lifestyle, it must also be said that Don is more of a gentleman (Transylvanian and otherwise) in his conduct than his peers. He does not partake in the petty gossip and crude "guy talk" conversations that go on openly and publicly around him at the office, preferring to keep to himself and avoid the drama. When his employees rudely make fun of other people's problems (a speech impediment in one instance, urinary incontinence in another), he admonishes them quite sternly. Even from the very first episode, he warns another man to stop making rude remarks about Peggy (even though he's only just met her.) Despite having gotten where he is by basically being a con man, he operates on a much higher moral code than those around him.
The aforementioned Peggy (played by the lovely and talented Elisabeth Moss) is also crucial to the show, and to Don's personal development. Mad Men's story arc began in 1960, but as we get deeper and deeper into the sixties, Peggy's become more and more indispensable to Don on many levels, as she tries to nudge he and all the other guys at the male-dominated ad agency to get past the sexism and racism that prevailed at that time.
Best of all about the show, it takes painstaking pride in getting an authentic early-60s look down cold in every detail, and it's even shot like a 60s film, with the producers and directors openly acknowledging stylistic homages to Alfred Hitchcock's cinematography.
- - JSH